Ukraine Fighting Continues as Ceasefire Looms

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - Fierce fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels ensued just hours before a February 15 ceasefire, signed by European leaders, takes effect.

Ukraine Fighting Continues as Ceasefire Looms

Fighting in eastern Ukraine cast doubts on the ceasefire and came as the United States accused Russia of deploying heavy arms to eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Kiev warned that shelling of civilians in the rebel-held areas in the east had intensified.

Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine's president, said continuing bombardment of civilians by pro-Russian separatist rebels was already undermining the peace plan reached in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, on Thursday.

The deal was negotiated by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany.

At least 28 civilians and soldiers were reported killed in the latest upsurge in fighting.

Poroshenko expressed pessimism about the prospects for the ceasefire deal.

"Unfortunately after the Minsk agreement, Russia's offensive has significantly increased. We still think that the agreement is in great danger," he said during a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

"After what we concluded in Minsk, these are not only attacks against civilians but also against the Minsk agreement."

The ceasefire, due to take effect from 22:00 GMT Saturday, will be the first test of the commitment by Kiev and pro-Russian separatists to the new peace plan.

A previous ceasefire in September was violated repeatedly as Ukrainian forces and the rebels both tried to gain more ground.

If it holds, the peace deal would be a partial win for both Moscow and Kiev: Ukraine retains the separatist eastern regions and regains control of its border with Russia, while Russia holds strong leverage to keep Ukraine from ever becoming part of NATO.

But prospects for the deal appeared to dim, with the United States making fresh claims of Russia deploying heavy weapons ahead of the ceasefire.

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